TerraPower Founder and Chairman Bill Gates speaks in a recorded video message during the June 2, 2021 press conference announcing efforts to advance a Natrium reactor demonstration project in Wyoming. (Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle/Wyoming News Exchange)

A measure to clarify state and federal regulatory roles regarding TerraPower’s planned Natrium nuclear power plant passed a Senate committee Monday with no opposing votes. But members of the public highlighted several issues that remain largely unresolved in the bill.

The Senate Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee added three amendments to House Bill 131 – Nuclear power generation and storage-amendments. Two clarified reporting and public disclosure requirements, and a third addressed technical issues brought by the Wyoming Public Service Commission.

The core of the bill repeals past statutes blocking temporary spent nuclear waste storage until the federal government funds a permanent repository. The legislation is an attempt to satisfy concerns raised by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. 

A barrel of radioactive waste is visible through a catwalk at the Smith Ranch-Highland in-situ uranium mine in eastern Wyoming. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

But questions over taxation, public and environmental safety and construction impacts on communities remain. Another major unresolved concern is the fact that the only current supplier for the specialized fuel that the Natrium plant relies on is in Russia — which launched a globally denounced invasion of Ukraine.

“We are working in real time to try to figure out what additional options we might have,” TerraPower’s Director of External Affairs Jeff Navin told the committee.

Russian fuel source

The liquid-sodium cooled Natrium design relies on “high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU) metallic fuel,” according to the Bill Gates-backed TerraPower.

“As of today, the only facility that can produce commercial quantities of HALEU is owned and operated by Tenex in Russia, which is problematic on a number of levels,” Navin told WyoFile via email.

TerraPower began setting aside capital in 2021 to “stand up” domestic HALEU enrichment capabilities to “create an American competitor to Tenex,” Navin said.

“We are working with Congress and the Department of Energy to expedite the development of domestic enrichment capability,” Navin said. “This investment has helped support the only facility in the United States currently licensed to produce HALEU, although they do not yet have the capability to produce HALEU at commercial levels.

TerraPower Director of External Affairs Jeff Navin in Kemmerer Jan. 19, 2022. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

“This investment was made with the knowledge that we cannot rely on unstable countries like Russia for advanced reactor fuel,” Navin said. “We knew this before the invasion of Ukraine, but Russia’s recent actions make this even more clear today.”

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) was integral in creating the Advanced Nuclear Fuel Availability Program in 2020 to expedite the commercialization of American HALEU enrichment technology, Navin said. 

State Sen. Jim Anderson (R-Casper) asked Navin whether the Natrium design could be modified to use some other type of fuel that’s not currently reliant on a Russian source.

“Probably not,” Navin answered via Zoom.

Last week, the House amended HB 131 stipulating that an exemption to the state’s $5 per megawatt hour tax on nuclear power generation be contingent on the plant sourcing at least 80% of its fuel from U.S. suppliers after 2035.

Construction impacts

House Bill 131 is too vague on the question of whether the $4 billion Natrium project will qualify for Wyoming Industrial Siting Act protections, some members of the public argued. The act provides community impact assistance payments for qualifying industrial projects via the Industrial Siting Council.

Ur-Energy reps examine drill cuttings during a 2008 delineation effort in Wyoming’s Great Divide Basin. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

In addition to its economic benefits, TerraPower has acknowledged that there will also be significant strains on local services, especially in Kemmerer during the plant’s construction. The community will be host to some 2,000 workers during construction.

Powder River Basin Resource Council attorney Shannon Anderson offered an amendment to the Senate minerals committee Monday to help rectify the issue.

“What we would ask you to do with this amendment is to make sure that the Industrial Siting Act applies, full stop. It applies,” Shannon said.

The committee didn’t take up the issue.

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Dustin Bleizeffer

Dustin Bleizeffer is a Report for America Corps member covering energy and climate at WyoFile. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 25 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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  1. Original concerns of Russia providing the Uranium. Now we find China is also a investor/player in this endeavor, totally against this. Relying on outside US countries, in our Wyoming wrong. Big business endeavor short time Wyo benefits.

  2. Nuclear power carries a very high risk and it is not necessary.
    Wyoming will pay a devastating high price and all the money men will be long gone and living in a nuclear waste free villa!

  3. Why do people trust politicians to do good when they have proven to turn on those who voted for them. Bill Gates had proven ties with Jeffrey Epstein and Liz Cheney is not only a friend of Bill Gates but has turned on the people of Wyoming. Plus what are the down sides of nuclear power and what about all the Coal we have just sitting in the ground waiting to be used. This is a bad Deal for Wyoming.

    1. If Liz Cheney is a friend of Bill Gates, that’s to her credit. The man is constantly putting his money where his mouth is. Unless your mind is totally closed, copy and paste the link below.
      As far as Gates’ connection with Epstein, the only connection that has ever been proven is that Epstein assisted Gates with some of his philanthropic projects. It may or may not have been more than that. Remember, Trump was also a “friend” of Epstein.

      Cheney “Turned on the people of Wyoming”? If some politician finally getting the guts to speak the truth and put her political career at risk is turning on the people of Wyoming, then the people of Wyoming are in deep trouble.

  4. I was under the impression the Centrus Energy (LEU) had developed some capability in this space.